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Track(s) taken from CDA67133/4

Couplets de Mariette

First line:
Son absence
author of text

Dame Felicity Lott (soprano), Graham Johnson (piano)
Recording details: March 2001
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: July 2002
Total duration: 4 minutes 32 seconds

Cover artwork: L'Intrigue Nocturne by Gaston de Latouche (1854-1913)
Sotheby’s Picture Library


'[A] real treasure of a treasury' (BBC Music Magazine)

'I cannot begin to tell you what delights await you on these discs … irresistible gems of melody, wit and tenderness. The enterprise has clearly been a labour of love for all involved' (The Sunday Telegraph)

'Here is something so joyous and heart-warming that it's difficult to know where to start … anyone with a love of French music and poetry will find this a knock-out pleasure' (International Record Review)

'Adorable indeed … these songs steal into the heart. This is a set made for a lifetime's listening and enjoyment' (The Times)

'Both CDs are packed with gems, most of them rarities … a three-star issue for Chabrier's adorable music, Johnson's de luxe documentation and Lott's delightful singing' (The Sunday Times)

‘[Chabrier’s] 43 gorgeous songs find ideal interpreters on these two discs; the voices are beautifully limpid and the phrasing is exquisite’ (Classic FM Magazine)

‘there are major discoveries to be made here’ (Fanfare, USA)

'If you like French song this album is a treasure trove' (Financial Times)

‘Quite a serious treat for aficionados of the great French master especially as the performances by sopranos Lott and McGreevy are totally flawless and delivered with great charm and confidence throughout … Hugely enjoyable’ (AdLib)

‘the splendid group of artists here assembled get to the heart of every piece’ (Musical Opinion)

‘this superbly-produced set of his complete melodies should be welcomed by all’ (Classics Today)
This seems to be an aria out of a forgotten opera; contrary to his practice when writing songs, Chabrier indicated his ideas for orchestration at a few crucial points. The text has little poetic merit and we shall never know, or need to know, the exact circumstances behind the distressed state of mind of Mariette (whoever she is). And yet Chabrier lavishes music of the deepest feeling on these lifeless words. The A minor tonality and shape of the piece suggest that the ghost of this piece came back to haunt the composer when he wrote the famous Chanson de l’alouette in Le Roi malgré lui. The two arias have certain family resemblances.

This is definitely Chabrier in his most gentle non-bombastic vein. The melancholy of A minor is a sign of this. Like Schubert, Chabrier relishes the change of minor to major in this key. One of the most beautiful moments is in the fourth bar of the introduction: bars 3 and 4 are an exact repetition of bars 1 and 2 with the exception of the marvellous insinuation of G sharps in the piano writing which gently lift the cadence originally in E minor (bar 2) into E major (bar 4). The right-hand piano writing is like the most eloquent of oboe solos, the gentle drooping fifth immediately establishing the mood of the piece.

This aria was written between Gounod’s Faust (1859) and Bizet’s Carmen (1875). It has the romantic Schwung of the former and some of the delicate shading and colouring of the latter. Just when one fears that the music may be tending toward the commonplace there is a turn of phrase which happily confirms the identity of its creator: the younger, rather than the mature, Chabrier. The two sections of the aria (both heard twice) are the opening ‘Allegretto tranquillo’ (A minor) and, at ‘Toi qui depuis quinze ans’, a faster A major section (‘Pressez – appassionata’) where the emotional temperature of the music is heightened by a newly energised vocal line with its repetitions of ‘Toi, Toi’ off the beat. This new hand-wringing impulse is emphasised by the piano’s ardent quasi-canonic imitations of the voice. Before the faster section there is a sostenuto passage (‘Ah! douleur amère’) where the singer’s line is doubled without harmony by the piano, a device which serves to emphasise Mariette’s bereft loneliness. The composer has no scruples about recycling words from the first strophe in the second, and adding an expressive ‘hélas’ in the closing phrase.

Darius Milhaud made use of this song (with specially commissioned words by René Chalupt) when he made a new performing version of Chabrier’s operetta Une éducation manqué for the Diaghilev company in 1924.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2002

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